After more than 15 years and to the most successful Kickstarter in video game history, the third installment of Shenmue is anticipated to come out for the PlayStation 4 and PC at the end of 2018. The first two games were released between 1999 and 2001 for Sega’s final console, the legendary Dreamcast. Shenmue is the product of Yu Suzuki, who initially wanted to make an RPG, but as development progressed, it inevitably became its own original genre, FREE, short for Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment. Today, gamers and gaming media refer to it as open world, and many gamers say Shenmue paved way for it and still holds up even after 18 years after its debut.
While the foundation of the plot is rather cliché in martial arts cinema, the game’s novelty of exploring a town foreign to non-native Japanese and Chinese gamers brings in so much of its appeal. You can enter every store, interact with everyone, touch nearly every object, visit temples and shrines, and play some arcade games. It was an experience that sucked you into a world that made you believe you were really there, or if you do visit those locations, you feel like you’re in the game itself.
Despite its praises by the gaming media and its hardcore fanbase, it was a victim of its multi-million dollar budget and in order to make a profit, it had to sell two copies for every Dreamcast owner. So between 2001 and now, what games are there that Shenmue fans can enjoy and vice-versa? Read our top 6 to find out.
Similar Game to Shenmue
1. Virtua Fighter 3
- Platform: Arcade, Dreamcast
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Sega AM2
- Release Dates: 1997
Though it is undeniable that Shenmue helped pave way for the open world genre, what inspired Shenmue to begin with? Shenmue was originally conceived as a Virtua Fighter RPG. While the final product of Shenmue evolved as its own game distinct from Virtua Fighter, many of those originally intended elements still remain. For starters, there are posters of Virtua Fighter you can find in Ryo’s house, and you can even buy toys of Virtua Fighter at the toy capsule machines. Beyond that, its combat system is pretty much the Virtua Fighter 3 engine. Many of the fighting styles of the featured Shenmue characters take 100% influence from the characters in Virtua Fighter.
For example, Ryo is pretty much Akira, and his elbow assault is one notable example of how the characters are stylistically similar. Lan Di is influenced by Lau, Chai is pretty much an ugly version of Lion who uses his mantis style kung fu, Chunyan is Sarah Bryant with her quick combos and flash kick, Greg Moore is Wolf and uses his giant swing to throw you out of the ring, and Rod represents Jeffery with his backbreaking power bombs. Furthermore, the final move you learn from Master Chen and Gui Zhang (where you counter a punch by flipping the opponent) at the end of the first game is actually one of Pai’s moves. So if you have played any of the Virtua Fighter games and play against these characters in Shenmue, you’ll instantly recognize which Virtua Fighter character influenced which Shenmue character.
2. Batman: Arkham Knight
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
- Publisher: Warner Bros
- Developer: Rocksteady
- Release Dates: June 23, 2015
Just like how Shenmue allows you to freely explore the rural harbor city of Yokosuka, Arkham Knight allows you to fight in the dark alleys of Gotham City. However, the scales of the cities in both games are dramatically different to the point that how you go from point A to point B are naturally different as well. For Shenmue, you can mostly just walk around like you can in the real-life Yokosuka such as the Dobuita shopping street. However, if you ever want to go to a commercial part of the harbor to get a job, you must take the bus. With Arkham Knight, you can run, drive the Batmobile, jump across rooftops and/or glide through the skies like in the Dark Knight movies.
Arkham Knight is the ultimate game that lets you be Batman on every scale you can think of. Like Ryo, Batman has an arsenal of martial arts techniques at his disposal to take out bad guys. However, you do have the option of using stealth (sneaking from underneath vents or from overhead ledges) considering that you are fighting squads of armed mercenaries. And you also have the utility belt to allow you to sneak into rooms, hack computer systems, throw smoke bombs, or whip out grappling gun hooks in order to navigate yourself through battle. Arkham Knight brings the best of every Batman element from all mediums you can think of. The close range combat of the Dark Knight movies, the art of Ben Affleck’s costume, the rich stories of the comics, and the amazing voice talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.
Batman: Arkham Knight Trailer
3. Grand Theft Auto V
- Platform: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
- Publisher: RockStar Games
- Developer: RockStar North
- Release Dates: Sept 17, 2013
While Shenmue allows you to be an honorable martial artist in the East, Grand Theft Auto lets you be a thief with or without honor at your personal discretion in the West. Both games do their jobs in capturing the imagination in their own distinguishing ways by using the real world as its foundation. Shenmue allows you to explore the rather safer places in Japan despite the occasional scuffle, while Grand Theft Auto allows you to explore the criminal underworld of America’s big cities. The fifth installment takes places in Los Santos, a fictional representation of Los Angeles.
Naturally, the name of the game is pretty much being a criminal and you are free to explore Los Santos in any way you want. Instead of looking for sailors, you can just assault random people on the street. Or you can just steal a car and go on the ultimate joy ride and create your wildest police chase video. Heck, you can even jack an airplane and fly around. While Grand Theft Auto feels more like a playground with what you can do, Shenmue is still a much more serious game with how it uses its open world elements and how you interact with other people. While they do share elements of what you can explore, cultural differences allow it to ultimately be different and fun in their own ways.
Grand Theft Auto V Trailer
Any Game Like Shenmue?
4. The Saboteur
- Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: Pandemic Studios
- Release Dates: Dec 8, 2009
With Shenmue taking you to 1986 Japan, The Saboteur takes you another 40 years back in time in Nazi-occupied France. Instead of being a teenage martial arts master, you are Sean Devlin, a down on his luck Irish race car mechanic. However, the German champion sabotages one of his tires during a race, and he also happens to be an officer for the Nazis. While trying to get revenge, Sean and his best friend Jules try to sneak into his factory but are captured and Jules is slain by the Nazis. Swearing revenge, Sean joins a resistance to fight the Nazis.
While both of their respective settings are different, they both share similar stories that revolve around revenge. Both games in their own ways are also time period pieces representing the countries they take place in, and that’s pretty much where their core similarities end. While Shenmue is a martial arts epic, The Saboteur is obviously a war story mixed with noir so its action relies more on the warfare of that time period. Its main gimmick is that whenever you are in a hostile zone, it switches to black and white while areas that have fewer Nazis are in color. If you happen to fight Nazis in a colored area where you have more allies, than they will come to your rescue. So if you want to be part of the resistance, The Saboteur is the ultimate choice for that.
The Saboteur Trailer
5. Sleeping Dogs
- Platform: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: United Front Games
- Release Dates: Aug 14, 2012
Just like the second installment of Shenmue, Sleeping Dogs takes place in Hong Kong, which portrays the world of the Chinese mafia. In this game, you play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop who infiltrates the Sun On Yee family in order to destroy it from the inside. Both Shenmue 2 and Sleeping Dogs in terms of setting feel the same. The Hong Kong you see in both games are more or less similar with the parks you can visit, the many tea shops and restaurants you pass by, and the cramped meat markets you can knock over. Both games share some fun excellent martial arts action but exhibit some differences. Shenmue’s fighting tends to feel more cinematic while Sleeping Dogs has a more of a realistic feel with the impact of the punches and kicks. However, Shenmue is still limited to walking and running while Sleeping Dogs allows you to use vehicles to get around certain parts of the city.
Sleeping Dogs offers a very immersive experience by having the characters speaking in both English and Cantonese for cultural authenticity. Unfortunately, Sleeping Dogs uses a contemporary Hong Kong as opposed to Shenmue’s 1987 Hong Kong so you do not realistically have the option to visit the old Kowloon walled city, which was torn down in the 1990s, while it plays an important part in Shenmue.
Sleeping Dogs Trailer
6. Yakuza Kiwami (Ryu Ga Gotoku Kiwami)
- Platform: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios
- Release Dates: Jan 21, 2016 (Japan), Aug 29, 2017 (US)
So what franchise has been considered the ultimate follow up to Shenmue? It would have to be Yakuza or Ryu Ga Gotoku (meaning Like a Dragon) in Japan. Although it is also a product of Sega, Suzuki had nothing to do with the development of the game through a good percentage of some of the staff that worked on Shenmue also worked on Yakuza. Kiwami, or Ultimate in Japanese, is a graphical and story upgrade of the original game, which was released on the PS2 in 2005. The novelty both Shenmue and Yakuza share is that they allow you to explore a certain part of Japan you could swear was the real thing itself. While the first Shenmue game takes place in Yokosuka, a harbor city south of Yokohama, Yakuza Kiwami takes place in Kamurocho, a fictional representation of Kabukicho, a famous red light district in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward that houses some criminal organizations. Despite that, Japan is still one of the safest countries in the world and so is the real-life Kabukicho. Just ignore the touts and everything is cool.
Like Shenmue, Yakuza has its unique sense of product placement to further add realism to the game. At the bottom part of the map, you can visit a Don Quijote store, which you can call Japan’s equivalent to Wal-Mart. In fact, its geographical location accurately represents its real-life location. You can also buy drinks from vending machines such as CC Lemon, a famous soft drink in Japan just like how the Japanese version of Shenmue allowed you to purchase and drink Coca-Cola products. In addition, you can also visit an arcade-like in Shenmue and play some retro games like Out Run. You can even enjoy some of Kabukicho’s real-life nighttime activities such as sharing drinks at hostess clubs with a lady of your choosing (but is going to cost you some money) or getting massages at a parlor (which also costs some money).
It does have its own distinct combat system but exhibits a wild and fun extremity that equates to hardcore wrestling you see either in the old ECW, or Japanese wrestling. And like in Shenmue, it does throw in the occasional QTE but they are not as novel as they are in that game. In other good news, this edition only contains the original Japanese audio since the dub of the original PS2 release was met with harsh criticism (though not as hilarious as Shenmue). So if you want to learn some yakuza talk in Japanese, Yakuza Kiwami is it.
Yakuza Kiwami Trailer
Though it is naturally disputable, there are a good number of dedicated fans that feel that if it weren’t for Shenmue, we wouldn’t have the open world genre. Do you agree with that or were open world games inevitable? That is very hard to debate but what can’t be debated is how numerous elements of Shenmue still hold up to this very day. While technology has evolved since its debut, many companies have taken the genre to new creative heights, but Shenmue allows you to look at objects in detail, have audible conversations with the townsfolk, and the NPCs all have their distinctive lives from cleaning up their yard in the morning to shopping in the evening. While most open world games today allow the use of vehicles, Shenmue realistically gives you a reason to not include them and that’s fine. Some people want realism, and Shenmue still holds up to this day for reasons that work in context to its settings and some other open world games haven’t managed to capture certain qualities that make Shenmue distinguishing to this very day.
Last, Shenmue 3 is still a little over a year away and many fans are campaigning for an HD re-release for modern consoles. If you want in, please feel free to tweet #SaveShenmueHD every third of the month.